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Florida Safe Schools Coalition
Senate Education Committee Anti-Bullying Testimony- April 25th
Nadine Smith, Equality Florida
As I look behind me and I see the picture of Jeffrey, I wish we could fill this entire room with the pictures of the children whose lives were lost and whose lives have been damaged because of bullying.
The Florida State Schools Coalition has worked for six years as a coalition to get the legislature to address the epidemic of bullying in Florida schools.
It's a nationwide problem and it's an incredible problem here in the state of Florida, and for those six years, we have brought students, not unlike the student who spoke before me, to tell you what's going on in their schools. And what they talk about is that the bullying not only occurs, but not everyone has a parent as available as Jeffrey's mother was to him. Not every student has an administration that looks out for them.
In fact, many of the schools that have adamantly opposed this bill in its current form have done so because this bill waters down what they are already doing.
It strips away local control. It stops them from being able to implement the laws that they believe are best. And it's not simply what they believe to be best, it's what research tells us works.
So, as our hearts are touched by our own stories, the stories we hear, the stories you've heard over the years from those students who've come to meet you in your districts and the students that have come to Tallahassee, we should be moved. We should be moved to action, but also, let us be disciplined in that action so that what we do doesn't just make us feel as though we've done good, but actually does good.
Adding categories is not about labeling students. Effective policies enumerate categories to label behaviors, and without it, the generic word “all”-- studies have shown, when you have a generic policy that simply says “all”, statistically, it's no different than having no policy at all.
When you have an all-inclusive, comprehensive policy that includes enumerated categories of behavior that's prohibited, you have the ability to guide teachers on when they are supposed to intervene.
You don't leave those decisions up to the individual bias of one teacher over another, one administrator over another. It's why the Supreme Court, a conservative Supreme Court, said enumerated categories were essential in discrimination and harassment policies. It's the only way you can hold people accountable.
Nobody comes here today to support bullying, to say bullying's okay. If that was our only standard, then there's no reason to pass a policy. There's no one who's going to argue in the schools that bullying should occur. We've got to give them guidance.
That same research tells us that most of the bullying that occurs in the school happens in front of a teacher, happens in front of a staff member, and they don't intervene, and when you go to talk to teachers about why they don't intervene, many of them say they don't know how, they don't know what constitutes bullying.
Now, what I want to say to you is we have the opportunity not to make this a polarizing issue. We have the opportunity because we all are on the same side. It's hard to check the book the mark the form “against” when we've been fighting harder than anybody to see that the state pass an anti-bullying bill.
But what we know is that all of the leading researchers, all the academics, all of the nationwide and Florida-based statistics that we see tell us what we are poised to pass in the state of Florida right now won't get the job done, and honestly if we simply thought it was inoffensive but symbolically useful for you all to pass this, we would be neutral on this bill.
But it's simply not neutral. It actually goes into the counties where the most effective anti-bullying policies have been passed, and tells them they must repeal them or they won't get state school funding. That's what this policy does that is dangerous.
So let's just talk one moment about the word "all." The word "all" is very powerful. It speaks to us on a gut level. “All people are created equal”.
But what we know through our history in this country is that “all” doesn't always mean “all”.
“All people are created equal” There was a time when that only meant people who own land. There was a time when “all” didn't include the women in this room. There was a time when "all" meant that my ancestors were regarded as three-fifths human.
One of the legacies, one of the powerful things we've done in this country is understand when the umbrella of all that should protect us doesn't include all of us, that we have an obligation to go beyond. And that's what this is. We have brought students with cerebral palsy, Muslim students who have been called terrorists, gay students, the smart student who gets picked on, they've come and they've sat in your office and they've told you what they've endured. There's nobody in this room more dedicated to ensuring that all students are protected than me.
And what I'm telling you, and not just when I'm telling you, but what the research will tell you if you'll look at it, what the experts will tell you if you'll listen to them, is that you are poised to pass a policy that is ineffective. But worse than that, you are going to undo the hard-fought gains at the local level that schools, that people on the front line know work. You're going to force them to repeal those policies. That's why school district superintendents across the state, many of you have gotten phone calls from school board members, you've heard from superintendents, you've seen Op-Eds from leaders on this issue saying this is a mistake, but we can fix it.
What I'm saying to you is right now, instead of polarizing this further, let's create a solution that brings the best minds around together and comes up with a solution that will work. We have the ability right now to do that, and I beg you to do that. Thank you for your time.